Why I hate secret die rolls
The recent trend in Historical ASL has been to introduce a 'fog of war' into the system by using secret die rolls. Presumably, to keep the opponent guessing about the exact nature of each others forces. No doubt this is the influence of computer games on the board game market.
Contrary to the intended effect of enhancing play, the very opposite happens and the players tend to doubt because of the rolls. ASL was designed to be an open game. While the players generally knew where and how the opposing side sets up, all the other factors could be verified. That is the basis of the game and the point that draws satisfaction for the players. Since all the results could verified, both sides have the assurance everything was proper and neither can not doubt the outcome of an event.
Mistakes Will Happen
The most common problem secret die rolls encounter is a mistake in figuring the DRMs for an outcome of the roll. To find the chances of a mistake, one simply has to go no further than the rules book. It is a 100 loose-leaf pages written over ten years and obviously designed for change from the start. The errata pages have been numbered from 1987 to '96, there are scores of errata in every new module and magazine that comes out. You can not swing a dead cat without hitting some Q/A. Even the ASL mailing list on the internet is littered with questions about play and rules interpretation. Is a mistake possible? The better question is how is one ever avoided? For further proof, go to any tournament and watch how often a rule is discussed and looked up. No one player is bound to remember all the rules all the times. However, two players are bound to remember more rules, especially if they are diametrically opposed and are trying to stop each other.
Doing it Right the First Time
It is especially important to do it right the first time. When sitting down to play, no body ever wants to start over after it begins. Both players have their strategies, setup plan and play with those goals and ideas in mind. Some mistakes can be easily corrected such as adjusting the final DR of a TH attack - that is just math. Other mistakes are much more critical and cannot be undone. For example, concealed units. Especially in small games, the use of concealed units might be the focus of the game. If that concealed stack were knocked over and the opponent sees the content, that information cannot be retracted and might overshadow the rest of the game. If a player made a high risk option trying to out-guess the opponent, the game result will be skewed. The players then have to compensate and work out some compromise but the game will never be the same as it was. Now, imagine the opponent himself knocks over the stack, for whatever reason. It is a bad situation for everyone and possible that both players can walk away feeling robbed.
Remember, an ASL game does not simply involve the immediate players. Campaigns take several weeks and several players for sure. But these players have to allocate time, adjust their schedules but it also effects wives, children, other friends and family. Playing ASL is not free and comes with opportunity costs. Ask any married player. These are all concerns I am willing to address to play and my wife is a dear soul for tolerating it, so I want to make the most of the time. Therefore allowing mistakes is hardly praiseworthy. Again, in a campaign game of KGP, let us say the opponent misreads a paragraph and claims he gets several Fanatic units for which he is otherwise not entitled. I can not verify that and so over the course of a few weeks I am going to make a large time commitment only to find out it was a scenario of which I never would have agreed to play if I had known my opponent was going to use the wrong units.
That is why it is important to avoid these situations in the first place. For example, our group substitutes the same number of any counters for real ones under the concealment counter so even if the stack gets knocked over, no information is revealed and no one feels slighted. I digress, but the point is with a little effort, these awkward situations can be avoided. Rather than avoiding them, secret die rolls only serve to introduce more.
Lastly and most importantly, secret die rolls detract from my enjoyment of the game. Nothing would please me more than to roll a '2' on the key roll, thus killing that King Tiger or wiping out the 'Kill Stack with the 10-3.' Conversely, seeing my opponent open up the big gun and roll a '12.' That is the stuff from which legends are made and you can not wait to go back home and tell your beer-swilling buddies what happened. That is the fun part of the game. We all have done that. But fundamental to this point is we can do that only because the results are verified and uncontested. Have you ever told somebody the results of your solitaire game? Exciting as it must have been to you, it just does not carry as much credibility simply because the results were questionable and unverified. In a similar vein, I would feel bad if I had to tell my opponent I rolled a '2' in a clutch situation. I rolled it and it is no less legitimate just because it was secret but certainly I would not feel good about the situation and, he would always have room for doubt. I can not see a win situation in this: both players feel bad. Certainly I would want to recalculate the attack if it happened to me. Was a modifier left out, the LOS open, hindrances overlooked, anything that might change the attack? Any result other than complete verification and acceptance of the result will deprive me of the enjoyment I get from playing.
Notice that cheating was never mentioned? It is not cheating I am worried about. While I met my share of people of roll the dice in a 'funny' manner or intentionally read the rules incorrectly, those players can be easily avoided. Its the more common situation of mistakes and awkward situations I am wanting to avoid. And they can be avoid very easily, too.
Putting It Together
So what do I recommend? Remove the secret die rolls. The idea of them is fun and interesting but I feel they introduce more problems than they are worth. Additionally, there is some information that players cannot even use. For instance, knowing my opponent will have several Fanatic squads in a campaign game is of no use to me. I do not know how I would do anything different to compensate. Same with the guy having a good leader or two. It is too bad, I would rather him not have them, but that is not my choice. On the other hand, because of secret die rolls, in one KGP scenario, my opponent received *three* 9-2 leaders. While, possible for sure, it is very unlikely. If that result had been verified and he received the same three, congratulations and there would be no doubt.
The uncertainty from ASL is which units are purchased, where they come in and what tactics he uses. I like the idea of unit purchases. They can be verified but only after the information is unveiled. He has to bring them on at which point the costs can be determined. The uncertainty introduced by the secret die rolls do not guarantee an interesting game anyway. The best games I have ever played are ones where both opponents know in an unspoken manner what the other is going to do. That does not make a game bad, because the players still have to implement the strategies and tactics. The tactics have a wide range and is very player specific. Some players can get away with bold, frontal assaults others with more mechanical precision. For me, watching the tactics unfold is the fun of the game.
If you want secret die rolls, introduce them in other places. If the defender has minefields, for instance, let him roll in secret for *every* hex entered, revealing the result only to verify an outcome. The attacker can verify that since he is going to know about minefield at that point anyhow. That would introduce much more uncertainly on a tactical level - the very place I want uncertainty.
By the very nature of the complex rules for ASL, secret die rolls seem incongruous anyway. The game needs to be more open, not less so.
Please feel free to write me. I encourage discussion and am always open to new and different ideas.